(The Center Square) – South Carolina’s $31 billion fiscal year 2022 budget features $5.7 billion in education spending that includes teachers’ pay raises and a boost of $1,100 in per-pupil funding.
Under House Bill 4100, which includes $10.7 billion in state general revenue appropriations, South Carolina schools will spend a record $15,276 per child during the 2021-22 school year, a 7.37% increase from the previous year.
The state budget, however, excludes rafts of federal education pandemic assistance, including $330 million in CARES Act money and more than $3 billion in American Rescue Plan (ARP) money that, once allocated, would push state education spending for the coming school year to above $11 billion.
The $3 billion in ARP allocations will be spent over the next three years. To receive the funding, the ARP requires districts put together three-year spending plans by August.
The South Carolina Department of Education (DOE) required all 79 Palmetto State public school districts and two state-managed districts to forward proposed “academic recovery plans” outlining how they will use ARP money by May 28.
The department has created a webpage where approved district academic recovery plans are posted. The DOE has approved 60 district plans, including those submitted by the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind, and asked 21 to revise plans by July 15.
The plans detail strategies for improving English language arts (ELA) and math for all students and “catch-up growth” for those who saw performance declines in the past year.
Under DOE guidance, the academic recovery plans will use ARP money to help students who fell “mildly,” “moderately” and “significantly behind” during the pandemic.
Of the 60 plans approved, about half have earned “strong” overall ratings from the DOE, with others receiving an “evidence provided” grade, meaning just enough detail was provided to get the nod but detail is sketchy – a product of uncertainty over how to best use the one-time money and, districts complain, vague guidance on what constitutes a “good” plan.
District strategies posted on the DOE’s webpage in using ARP money to help students who fell behind during the pandemic include “extended learning opportunities” and “targeted intervention” that would expand summer learning, after-school programs, “Saturday academies” and decreased class sizes.
District plans for using ARP money include:
• Greenville County Schools: The state’s largest school district’s three-page plan was the shortest approved and is purposely broad, receiving the “evidence provided” grade.
The district is proposing to “annually increase the percentage of K-12 students reading on grade level” and do the same in math achievement through “metacognitive awareness with texts” and a plan to “scaffold student thinking through modeling and think alouds.”
District officials said more details will be provided by August.
• Allendale County Schools: The district’s plan is to increase third- to eighth-graders reading on grade level by 5% in the coming year.
• School District of Pickens County: The district’s 34-page plan has been praised as an example for others to follow. Every goal cited is the same: restore achievement to pre-pandemic levels in two years. The plan also calls for expanding 4-year-old kindergarten and starting to offer classes for 3-year-olds.
• Anderson County School District 2: The district will use ARP money to hire more first- and third-grade teachers to reduce class sizes.
• Anderson County School District 5: All elementary students will spend 30 more minutes daily on literacy and math, expanding that curriculum to 150 minutes and 90 minutes, respectively, a week.
• Charleston County School District: The district plans to boost its “teacher residency program,” which pairs aspiring or new teachers in classrooms with veteran educators.